White Can’t Cope

Five minutes of play and then to the bench. That’s pretty much NBA life for James White.

28-year-old rookie Chris Copeland is stuck in the opposite predicament: Mike Woodson parks him on the bench for every relevant minute, only to give him burn after the game is out of reach. (See: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors, Mar. 11, 2013 for reference.)

White starts. Copeland sits. Supposedly, it’s for defensive reasons, but at this point a player who is capable of being a legitimate offensive contributor has to have more value to a Knicks team that is in dire need of scoring efficiency.

Last night was ugly – some might say uglier than Betty. The Knicks shot 27.4 percent from the field, 18.5 percent from the line and posted 63 points in Oakland. Only the basketball gods know if their 12-point second quarter or their nine-point fourth quarter was worse, but even on an off night for the team, Mike Woodson stayed in his usual rotation habits—James White got to spin for a confusing five minutes at the start and Chris Copeland entered once the outcome was already decided.

With Amar’e Stoudemire out for the remainder of the regular season, the Knicks need offense from the forward spot more than they have all season. Kenyon Martin was supposed to be an answer — if not the answer. He’s supposed to give the team grit, hustle, and toughness, and many believed that would be enough.

It’s not.

2005 Kenyon Martin would be great. Heck, even 2010 Kenyon Martin could be a valuable contributor. But go back and watch 2012 Kenyon Martin with the Clippers. It’s a different player. He’s not as quick. He doesn’t move nearly as well laterally as he once did. His shot altering ability is far from what it once was. If you love 20-foot jumpers with 12 seconds left on the shot clock, this is your guy. But otherwise, 2012 Kenyon Martin looks so far to be merely a shade of his former self.

Maybe Martin just had an off year after spending half of the lockout-shortened season in China. Maybe he just looked slower and less effective because his stalker had finally psyched him out. More realistically, maybe a 35 year old is just starting to play like a 35 year old.

Martin won’t replace Amar’e. He can’t replace him. When the Knicks lost their sixth man, it’s pretty apparent they didn’t lose much on the defensive end. It’s the offense they need to replace, and Copeland fits that mold a heck of a lot better than Martin or White.

Common knowledge says White starts because of defense. Copeland can put the ball in the hoop on one end of the floor, but he is a turnstile at the other. But there’s a problem with that logic: While White can play some defense, the lineup around him simply isn’t producing with him on the floor.

Opposing offenses have cleaned up when White has been out on the floor with the starters. The Knicks’ current starting lineup of Felton-Shumpert-White-Anthony-Chandler has posted a 123.1 defensive efficiency. Now, that’s in only six games so that number could change. In fact, it probably will change. A figure that poor is hard to sustain for a long stretch of time, if only because it’s cartoonishly bad. But for now, that 123.1 defensive efficiency is good enough to earn the title of the second-worst defensive five-man lineup that has played more than 25 minutes for the Knicks.

I’m unimpressed.

With White, we’re talking about a player that has had two game scores better than 5.0 all season. White is someone known for his dunking and explosiveness, yet he’s shooting only 55.6 percent at the rim (compared to a ridiculous 70.2 percent at the rim for Copeland).

It’s safe to say that Copeland settles nicely into the Knicks’ offensive mold; New York is a team that executes a 4-out, 1-in scheme well. That means maximizing more efficient shots like threes and layups and minimizing less efficient ones like 22-foot, fadeaway jumpers.

That’s Copeland’s game, isn’t it? 38 percent on threes, effective at the rim, relatively smart with his shot selection — that ought to fit in well with this Knicks’ starting lineup, but for some reason we haven’t seen it. Copeland has scored 44 points in his past 38 minutes played on 16-for-27 shooting, but those 38 minutes have come over a 16-game stretch, one in which he played in only four contests.

At this point, there is simply no reason not to give Copeland a chance. The White experiment doesn’t seem to be working – neither superficially nor analytically. If you’re Mike Woodson, isn’t now the best time for change? Amar’e is out. Kidd has fallen off from the start of the year. Your million-tattoo man is playing with pain because he’s incongruously afraid of needles. (EDITOR’S NOTE: He’s also scared of cats. Ironically, given the state of Melo’s knee, a common house cat could have guarded him last night.)

There has to be an opening in the rotation, and Copeland isn’t giving the Knicks much of a choice of who it should be.

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Fred Katz (@FredKatz)

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at ClipperBlog.com, RotoWire.com, and ProBasketballDraft.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

5 thoughts to “White Can’t Cope”

  1. Why must it be White or Copeland?

    How about neither of them, because they both suck?

  2. I’m not really sure what the hubbub over Copeland is all about. While his minutes weren’t entirely consistent he saw plenty of burn before Amar’e came back and now that Amar’e’s out again it look like he’ll be back to getting minutes. He wasn’t a great fit alongside Amar’e in the second unit so he sat. It’s been two games since Amar’e went down- if he continues to only see garbage time minutes and the second unit continues to have trouble scoring then it’s clearly an issue.
    I’m in agreement about White- I’d start either Novak or Martin (and I’m not sure which Kenyon Martin you’ve been watching but the guy I’ve seen has probably been the Knicks’ best defender, Chandler included (though an engaged Chandler is obviously far better- he just has been really inconsistent). He’s fouling way too much (which isn’t super surprising for a guy who hasn’t played in 9 months) but if the Knicks are going to play this switching defense he’s the best-suited guy on the roster for it. If you’re looking for him to make anything other than a dunk off of a cut you’re probably going to be disappointed but he still has real value on the defensive end.

  3. flossy:
    Why must it be White or Copeland?

    How about neither of them, because they both suck?

    +1 have people watched Copeland play against decent defensive teams? (although granted he is the true king of garbage time)

  4. I agree that Copeland should get more of a chance. From my point of view, the Knicks almost always lose from lack of offense. Look at last night for example. The Warriors scored 92 points altogether, even though they got 18 more rebounds than the Knicks and thus presumably more scoring chances than an average team in an average game does. Even if you ignore the fourth quarter, where the Warriors scored only 17 points, because maybe the second string was in, the Warriors best quarter was still only 26 points. That’s an average NBA scoring quarter. Many people on this forum seem to be complaining about the Knicks defense, but the total scoring of their opponents just doesn’t support the hypothesis that the Knicks defend awfully. Given the rebound difference, I think they did pretty well.

    The Knicks shot 27% from the two and 18% from the three. They aren’t going to win any games at that point. So when they are scoring badly, I think they should try for all the offense that they can. If that means more minutes for Copeland, that’s great.

  5. Copeland is garbage and I find the conversations surrounding him to be nothing more than kneejerk reactions to a single game. The Knicks don’t need Copeland for offense. They just need Melo/Felton/JR to have decent games. Not great, just decent. That’s about as much offense as any opponent can handle. That we rarely see it working in tandem isn’t because Copeland is absent. It’s because they’re not playing well.

    And if they’re not playing well? Which is, presumably, the situation this article is zeroing in on, the next key contributors in line are Shump, Novak, Chandler and Kidd.

    At that point, if they’re not even playing well either, of course Copeland should be put in. But then again, you might as well dress up Herb Williams when Melo/Felton/JR/Shump/Novak/Chandler/Kidd aren’t playing well because the game is already lost at that point.

    The reason we keep Copeland on the bench until 4th quarter blowouts: because the Knicks have repeatedly proven that despite the seemingly automatic slow starts and 15 pt deficits entering the second half, usually the team tightens up and finds their defensive and offensive rhythm in the second half to make the game competitive.

    You can’t have watched Knicks basketball this season and tell me that’s not true. People would rather roll the dice with inserting Copeland in the 2nd quarter when both Melo and JR aren’t playing well in the first half? The ignorance offends me.

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